Energy companies & agencies: going all out in their search for diverse suppliers
“Companies that embrace and nurture diversity will fare better than those that do not.” – William D. Harvey, Alliant Energy
“The key thing for a supplier is to show how your company’s core competencies can fit in.” – Nancy Gardner, NREL
By Claire Swedberg
The face of corporate America is changing, says William D. Harvey, chair, president and CEO of Alliant Energy (Madison, WI). The change is reflected in the workplace and in companies’ business partners.
The need for diverse suppliers is on the rise in the energy industry. And since mainline companies are often willing to share, savvy diverse suppliers often find themselves with multiple utility partners and customers to serve.
All to the good. “Companies that embrace and nurture diversity will fare better than those that do not,” says Harvey. Alliant finds that its diverse suppliers frequently offer fresh ideas along with their quality products and services.
VisionIT: going global
David Segura is CEO of VisionIT (Detroit, MI). He grew his consulting, IT, managed services, vendor management and staffing business from a local company with a handful of employees to operations from Canada to Mexico and in India, and an ongoing expansion into Europe. Today VisionIT manages some 3,500 contract people and has 900 fulltime employees in almost two dozen locations: offshore and onshore centers including what Segura calls his “urban onshore solution:” services performed in inner city areas like Detroit.
“Big, audacious goal”
From the beginning Segura had a global vision and what he calls “a big, audacious goal.” He was among fifty CEOs invited to the White House this year for a panel on modernizing U.S. government, and U.S. Ambassador Ronald Kirk has commented that VisionIT is a company “that knows business as usual just won’t cut it, so they are trying out new ideas and business models.”
With a focus on the utility industry’s need for vendor management and specialized personnel, Segura attended the 2009 Edison Electric Institute supplier diversity conference and introduced himself and his company to the major energy industry companies that attended. He got so much interest that this year VisionIT is a major sponsor of the conference.
“VisionIT has spent years building our reputation as an MBE that delivers, and brings innovative thought into our solutions. We are finding significant opportunity to generate cost savings and solutions for the utility industry,” Segura says.
Entergy has a longtime supplier diversity focus
Entergy Corp is engaged in electric power production and retail distribution to 2.7 million customers in the south. The big utility has focused on supplier diversity for decades: in 1987 it was the first electric utility to enter into an agreement with the NAACP to seek out minority-owned businesses.
Walter Loyd, Entergy’s director of supplier diversity, notes that since then the utility has spent some $3 billion with diverse businesses. Today about a quarter of the utility’s suppliers are diverse, filling needs from line construction and engineering to meter reading services.
“We set diversity goals for our supply chain every year,” Loyd says. “From
a corporate standpoint we’re honoring an obligation to our shareholders to procure services and goods from the same kind of population that makes up our company’s customers.” From the corporate standpoint, “We’re looking for companies that bring creative ideas and solutions to the table.”
And safety! When a utility considers working with a new supplier, it’s important to be sure the supplier really understands the company’s needs, and safety may be at the top of the list, says Essence Harris, Entergy’s supplier diversity specialist. “Safety is a critical element in our industry; so many elements of what we do can be hazardous.”
IMPCO Inc does business with Entergy
Entergy supplier Industrial Maintenance Products Co (IMPCO Inc) provides a wide range of quality industrial maintenance products to many industries plus metropolitan and government agencies.
The company was founded in Edgard, LA by Aubrey Borne, Jr, and president Hillary Bossier in 1982. The very next year it became an Entergy supplier, and today IMPCO supplies Entergy with batteries, tools, pipes, valves, fittings, safety and first-aid items and similar materials.
“Through promoting the concept of quality assurance, teamwork and above all competitive pricing, the company has experienced continued growth in sales,” Borne explains. IMPCO employees are involved in ongoing training in areas like EDI, government bid searching, office management, electronic accounting, SAP and marketing techniques.
Meeting their needs
“Doing business with Entergy is no different from doing business with the industrial, municipal and construction industries,” Borne says. “We pride ourselves on meeting the needs of our customers, solving their problems, delivering quality products on time and forming partnerships that will continue to grow and develop.”
The relationship began with a long period of evaluations and meeting needs on smaller purchase orders, Borne explains. “After we proved our abilities Entergy awarded a portion of their maintenance, repair and operations business to us.”
More competitive in the open market
Doing business with Entergy has been good for IMPCO in many ways. “The volume purchases let us get better pricing margins from factories and suppliers, and that allows us to be more competitive in the open market,” Borne says. “It helped us expand our market base throughout the region we serve.”
IMPCO has gone through Entergy’s mentor program, and the utility has also referred IMPCO to others. “We have an excellent working relationship with Entergy that has helped us acquire business with other clients.”
IMPCO has been certified with the NMSDC for more than fifteen years, and is also certified with the Small Business Admin’s DBE and 8(a) programs. In turn, IMPCO is active with NMSDC, attending meetings and programs every year.
Pepco Holdings looks for diverse and small and local suppliers
At Pepco Holdings, Inc (PHI, Washington, DC), Maurice G. Williams, supplier diversity regional manager, also focuses on small, local, diverse businesses. “Helping those businesses grow helps PHI,” he says.
Williams develops relationships with diversity-related trade associations to help identify capable suppliers. Because of these efforts, Pepco Holdings has been on the Hispanic Business “top fifty” list for the past three years; last year it took its place on the top twenty-five.
Companies that want to do business with PHI, Williams says, “should know what we buy and be certified by a third-party agency for ethnicity and ownership.”
SDM and Associates: a stock of needed utility products
One of Pepco Holdings’ suppliers is SDM and Associates. Sheila D. Mitchell-Parker started the company out of her home in 1990: she had worked in the utility industry for eleven years and thought it was time to build her own business.
Today SDM and Associates has fifteen employees and an office in Glassboro, NJ. It sells products used by utility companies: meter rings and seals, fuses, batteries and the like.
“To start your own business you need passion, dedication and hopefully support from your family and friends,” Parker says with a smile. “You have to present yourself in an orderly fashion and keep your paperwork together!”
“SDM and Associates is one of PHI’s shining stars,” Williams declares. The relationship began in 2006, and Pepco Holdings was so pleased that it sponsored Parker at several management training programs. “Not only has PHI reached out to our business, they’ve also provided education,” Parker notes happily.
Wisconsin Energy looks for IT, finance, construction and maintenance help
Wisconsin Energy (Milwaukee, WI) has had its supplier diversity program in place for decades, and the company continues to make supplier diversity a strategic initiative throughout its supply chain. At monthly and quarterly meetings, officers and managers from each department review supplier diversity efforts, existing contracts, current procurement opportunities and what will be needed in the future.
The Wisconsin/northern Michigan utility brings in suppliers for services as wide-ranging as IT services, utility construction and financial services, says Jerry Fulmer, director of supplier diversity. Lately Fulmer has focused on helping managers and business unit heads identify diverse companies to do business with, particularly in IT, construction, finance and power-plant maintenance.
The utility seeks diverse partners with good experience in their own fields: reliable, financially stable and “able to provide solutions in the electric or gas industry,” Fulmer says. He looks for them through groups like the Edison Electric Institute, WBENC and NMSDC.
WBE InTren provides energy services throughout the Midwest
InTren (Union, IL) provides a variety of services for Wisconsin Energy and other electric, gas and telecom companies throughout the Midwest. Loretta Rosenmayer, CEO of InTren, began the company in 1988 to provide trenching services in McHenry County, IL, where she lived.
“InTren began simply as an underground trenching company. At that time I was primarily focused on providing for our family. I never imagined we would grow to become what we are today,” Rosenmayer says.
Soon after InTren was founded, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd, Chicago, IL) began a pilot program to outsource underground trenching for electric cable installations. A contract under that program moved InTren into the utility business.
That success encouraged Rosenmayer to expand InTren’s offerings. Today InTren does transmission, distribution, installation and maintenance services for electric and natural gas utilities. As the company grew, Rosenmayer brought in retired utility employees to provide
the expertise needed to support the utilities. “That was the best thing I did,” she says.
“Who knows more than they do? These people were instrumental in helping us develop a comprehensive quality and safety program to meet the needs of our customers and to ensure our employees’ safety.”
Ameren doubled its diversity spend over the last three years
Building its own diversity business community, Ameren (St. Louis, MO), an electric and natural gas services company in Missouri and Illinois, is also looking for excellence in its diverse suppliers and contractors. Adriene Bruce, managing exec of supplier diversity at Ameren, says the company’s core strategy is to lead the way to a secure energy future. That, she declares, will require the participation of minority-owned, woman-owned, and veteran-owned companies and both large and small businesses.
Ameren has built an aggressive program by identifying qualified diverse-owned business enterprises, and working with its existing diverse suppliers and contractors to help them reach their full potential. The utility has more than doubled the amount spent with diverse suppliers over the last three years, and has expanded the procurement opportunities available to them. “Supplier diversity partnerships underscore the vital role that diverse suppliers play in the growth and development of Illinois, Missouri and the American economy,” Bruce says.
NREL brings in high-level R&D
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy is dedicated to R&D, commercialization and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. The government lab has been developing a diverse group of small businesses owned by minorities, women and other disadvantaged individuals: HUBzone residents, veterans and service-disabled veterans.
Finding suppliers to provide needed high-level R&D is a challenge for NREL. That challenge is lessening, says Nancy Gardner, small business partnerships development manager, as more minority and small business suppliers get the technology-based expertise NREL needs. “More and more we have found small businesses that meet our needs for technical support for researchers,” she declares.
The lab’s staff attends outreach programs and trade shows to access the kinds of suppliers it needs. And its efforts are highly appreciated: the Rocky Mountain Minority Supplier Diversity Council honored the agency as its “corporation” of the year this spring.
The major roadblock, Gardner thinks, is suppliers who rush to NREL without fully understanding what the lab does and needs. The NREL website includes a small-business database and Gardner encourages suppliers to register there. Or, if they’re truly convinced that what they offer is a good fit for the lab’s needs, “They can talk to the small business partnerships office
or a program point of contact to show how their company’s core competencies can fit in,”
According to Kathee Roque, senior subcontract supervisor, “The key thing for a diverse supplier, as for anybody else, is to follow through on any promise you make. If you promise
to send material that day, then do it!” Gardner adds that patience and periodic follow-ups can
NREL works with Purple Sage
WBE Purple Sage (Denver, CO), a consulting and design firm, is an NREL supplier. The company employs about forty specialists and has provided expertise in science and technology for twenty-five years.
Owner Nicole Schroder’s background in business admin and marketing originally launched her into consulting services in the education sector, banking and finance, with core competencies in strategic communication. More recently she’s expanded into a more technical area, with consultants who support scientific research and Web development in the technical sector. Her staff provides graphic and Web design, technical writing and editing for industries including the utilities.
Purple Sage has developed a strong relationship with NREL because, says Roque, “They’re responsive and very flexible. Purple Sage goes beyond what they’re asked to do.
“Often we change the scope of the work, and their efforts to help us go that step further is what we appreciate. Sometimes we think we’re going down a particular path and something we didn’t expect comes up. Contractors like Purple Sage, with the flexibility to work with that, are valuable to us.”
To ensure that kind of flexibility, “We’ve tried to introduce people to our team who are committed to the mission of NREL,” Schroder explains. “If they ask for our expertise we recognize it as a huge honor, and try to display a level of humility in our response.”
UTILITY INDUSTRY SUPPLIER DIVERSITY PROGRAMS
Check out the active programs at these companies’ websites.
|Company and location
|Alliant Energy (Madison, WI)
|Electricity and natural gas
|Ameren (St. Louis, MO)
|Missouri and Illinois electric and gas services
|Entergy Corporation (New Orleans, LA)
|Energy, primarily electric power production
|Los Angeles City Department of Water and Power (Los Angeles, CA)
|Municipal utility supplying water and electricity to the city of Los Angeles
|National Renewable Energy Laboratory
(NREL, Golden, CO) www.nrel.gov
|U.S. Department of Energy facility for renewable energy R&D
|Pepco Holdings (Washington, DC)
|Energy delivery in Washington, DC, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey
|Southern Company/Georgia Power
(Atlanta, GA) www.southernco.com
|Energy for the southeastern U.S.
|Tennessee Valley Authority
(TVA, Knoxville, TN)
|Generates electricity for consumers in the
Tennessee Valley region.
|Wisconsin Energy (Milwaukee, WI)
|Electric generation for the Wisconsin area
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